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Around 1990, the pursuit of thrash metal was directed at bands with aggressive, heavy riffs played at high speeds. Death metal was expected to have vocals that sounded evil as fuck, and frantic drumming rounded out the ideal band. This was pretty much the ideal album from an unknown band in 1990, nothing groundbreaking like the premiere bands of the time did, just good, fast, simple, evil thrashing. One of the stronger pieces of the style, though it doesn't stand out with the elite thrashy death metal bands of their era like Morbid Angel.
Four songs appeared on their demos, one from the first and three from the second. The style is similar but shows evolution, plus slightly higher speeds and the sections that weren't at blistering velocity have been pretty much eliminated. This results in the album being 27 minutes long, which is an appropriate length for it.
Everything is simple - the drums are mostly straight blasting, the guitars chug and slide power chords with a bit of tremolo picking, and it's structured in even parts. There is quite a bit of character in the performances though, as the drums feel frantic and fit nicely into the pocket (this refers to timing), and the vocals add a bit more to the loose thrashing feel. The vocals are drenched in reverb, sounding so thick that they drown out everything else at times. They sound extremely evil, thick and powerful, pretty much perfect for bands who took German thrash to the extreme. The unfortunate consequence of the vocals being so powerful is that they practically drown out the thin and crunchy guitar tone at times. While thin guitar tones are very characteristic of the time, it could have improved the album to thicken it up a bit so the cymbals and vocals don't cover it up at all.
Merciless are one of the best at what they did - simple death/thrash that pushed the speed and aggression of their predecessors. It's fast as hell and sounds evil as hell, and that's what they were aiming to do.
The times change, the musical climate shifts, people look for different musical experiences, be it for extremity or something completely new. But every now and again an album is released, that brings you crashing back down to earth, and in 1990 death metal had exceeded thrash in it's methods of brutality, only a death/thrash album called "The awakening" blew that theory out of the water and the fucking stratosphere. For me I will always see this as more a thrash album than a death album, because it takes us back to the gradual evolution toward death metal, such as Sepultura or Psyhic Possessor. Sure you can definitely say there are hints of death metal spotted about the place, but had this been released around the same time as "Morbid visions" I think we would just be calling it an extreme thrash album. This could be a plus side for the more oldschool death metal fans, who simply cannot listen to death metal which doesn't hold true to the thrash genre from which it mutated. But the most amazing thing about this album is that it is brimming with hostile extremity, and you can compare it to death metal releases of the same year, and it still has the ability to damage the innocent and the meek. Death/thrash to me is a pretty potent mixture that not all could appreciate, like mixing cider with beer or cocaine with speed, and just letting the unstable roller coaster ride plunge you into a dark pit. And this album is a shining example of that very sensation, like stumbling across something bad which humanity should probably dis-invent, but you become hooked to it, you become a complete slut for it.
The fact this was released by a Swedish band around the time of "Left hand path" probably didn't do Merciless many favours, in terms of popularity and exposure by word of mouth. Although Entomed's debut fucking rules, I think the masses overlooked some great potential with this album. But like many bands who breathe new life into a genre, it does not instantly mean success. It's not so hard to believe that in a parallel universe, Merciless might have been the band that turned heads, and receiving a huge stream of reviews here on the Metal Archives. The riffs on this album have plenty of punch without being muddy, or mixed in way too high. The opening riff to "The awakening" brings about a feeling of impending doom, even though it is not a doomy riff at all, it is all speed and angst. The vocals have that distinct edge which the Europeans and South Americans are quite renowned for, and may I say vocals with a Swedish accent can be more terrifying than the Germans vocals of the prior decade. Of course there are going to be comparisons with Incubus, which I hear all the time by the way. But I never saw the undeniable source of comparison if I'm being honest, and these guys have dug a route for themselves in the genre. "Pure hate" has an almost Morbid Saint feel to the riffing, and now and again goes into Dark Angel territory of accelerating all the instruments and an almost indecipherable fashion to untrained ears. I want to talk about the drums, they were definitely thrash drums and I'm pretty sure they're not using blast beats. But whatever it is it's fast drumming played the old fashioned way, but it hasn't aged at all it might even make a drummer like Hellhammer blink twice. "Souls of the dead" is as just an unrelenting affair, and you could probably place it under the same umbrella as songs like "Perish in flames" or "Pleasure to kill". I often grin as I always assumed this is the band Sepultura wish they could have been around the time of "Morbid Visions" but didn't have all the pieces of the jigsaw until "Schizophrenia". This is an excellent album, and I would actually go as far as saying it is an essential purchase. Did you know Euronymous produced this album? A job well done I reckon!
In the subgenre of Death/Thrash, Merciless are a band that has almost no equal. Every aspect of their music pushed the boundaries of both speed and aggression to the very limit of human capabilities. Appearing somewhat late in the Thrash scene, Merciless delivered what could be the most forceful sounding album in the entire genre which was much needed at a time when many thrash metal bands were stagnating, and the still developing death metal genre threatened to surpass Thrash in all aspects. Merciless was very unique in that they were on the borderline right between the two genres, and their style displayed the limits in which aging thrash style could played, as well as the many possibilities that the newer death metal genre could yield. Their 1990 debut, The Awakening can be described as bloodthirsty brutal and unrelenting blackened Death/Thrash, which shows no mercy to the listener whatsoever, their innovative style was similar in many respects to Brazil's Incubus, which could be the only band who could match Merciless savagery.
Without even knowing about the band it is clear as soon as the first track, Pure Hate starts playing, you are in for a truly merciless bashing from start to finish. Never before have I encountered an album that can not only displays extremity in terms of speed, but also conveys the emotion associated with the music, directing the atmosphere of it right at you. The thunderous echoing sound of the chainsaw-like tremolo riffs coupled with the steamrolling drums taps into the very mind, and the beginning track Pure Hate conveys just that, savage hatred for mankind, and the ignorance of mainstream society. The energy builds until finally, an unstoppable wall of violent thrashing death reveals itself, which sets the tone for the entire album.
Merciless at this stage in their development bear huge resemblance to Pleasure To Kill era Kreator, only being played about 5 times faster. From the shrieking vocals to the Kreator like tremelo there are many parallels. Additionally, Bathory and Sodom influence are obvious. That still doesn’t keep this band from being original, as in a way, they improve upon and perfect every their predecessors ever did, with even more effect. The Awakening takes everything that made the Teutonic scene for example, and innovates their style even further. The customary Teutonic tendencies of going all out and never loosing intensity is displayed here, only with a level of intricacy, never becoming sloppy, or amateurish.
Just as with Serpent Temptation, the drumming on this album seems to be what sticks out the most. The Driving and Forceful sound of the drums give The Awaking an awe-inspiring level of intensity; even without any blast-beats. Instead, the rare and unique style known as hyper-snare is used here. While not fast enough to be a blast-beat, it's faster than any conventional thrash beat, and effectively aims for the grey area between the two. The hyper-snare style used here is a more deathly feature for the band, and while still used with thrash structure, displays death metal's intensity. Very few thrash metal bands dared to use this style, and was instead a common feature of first-wave death metal and Death/Thrash bands, such as Vulcano, Sepultura (on Antichrist), Incubus, and a French band called Agressor. At times, it seems as if the band is playing so fast everything will fall apart. Take for example the song souls of the dead, which after building momentum, explodes into a fury that seems inhuman. Drummer Stefan "Stipen" Carlsson shows a great amount of talent being able to play at such blasting tempos with such precision. Without a doubt this band, as well as Incubus show the limit in terms of speed in which thrash styled drumming can be applicated. In order to get any faster, blast-beats must be relied upon.
Another interesting aspect of the band, is the twisted, yet well though-out, lyrics. The depth of though and creativity here is more than most you will find. The song Denied Birth speaks about the consequences of eternal life, and impending doom approaching a soul many of millennia old, that desperately searches for mortality, but to no avail. Very different from the more primitive, gore influenced lyrics typical for early death metal.
While being mostly fast, the band does have some moments of time signature changes, and even semi-technical riff work, as heard in Realm of The Dark, and Dying World. These songs in particular are more varied than the rest, and incorporate more complexity, giving hints to what the band would do on later recordings. This is far from primitive material.
In conclusion, I believe that this album displayed two main points; the inherent limitations of the thrash metal genre, and the many possibilities and capabilities of the up and coming death metal genre. The band had shown that the thrash metal structure had been carried to its very limit in terms of aggression. The Thrash beats here were being played as fast as humanly possible, and made in clear to future bands that blast beats use in the death metal fashion were to be incorporated if they wished to achieve higher level of speed. Albums like The Awakening, as with Serpent Temptation, and Neverending Destiny were not only transitional, but were very innovative and revealing as to the future of Death/Thrash, and full-blooded death metal. The once mighty flag that thrash waved was being gradually lowered, and the flag of Death Metal was soon to take its place. Merciless was a band that stood the knife's edge between the two, putting the final word on one genre, and pioneering another. The Awakening is an underrated classic.
The Awakening was the first release from Sweden's Merciless. It was also the first album released on Deathlike Silence Productions, run by Euronymous of Mayhem. The album was recorded in the summer of 1989, predating most of the classic Swedish Death Metal albums from bands like Entombed and Carnage, though it was not available until February 1990. The music found on this L.P. is a mix of Black, Death and Thrash Metal. The influences range from early Possessed and Death to Bathory and Mayhem and even German Thrash Metal bands, such as Kreator. In many ways, this album is very reminiscent of Endless Pain.
The vocals are very much in the vein of 80s Black Metal, possessing a similar feel to Mille (from Kreator) or Dead (from Morbid). The vocals are not static; rather, there is a decent amount of variation, including higher-pitched shrieks and certain vocal lines being filled with a sense of desperation and others being consumed with utter hatred. The sound is very raw, far more so than the Swedish Death Metal albums being recorded at Sunlight Studio. The only one of their contemporaries that they might be adequately compared to would be Grotesque. Perhaps there are also similarities with some of the faster moments from Samael's debut album. While the sound is raw and aggressive, this is not used as an excuse for all of the songs to sound the same. There is a lot of variation in tempo and several riff changes. Each song is different from the next, maintaining an identity of its own, displaying excellent musicianship.
"Pure Hate" and "Souls of the Dead" truly bludgeon the listener with fury and malice. The title track has a slight epic feeling to it, due to the arrangement. The memorable riffs found in such songs as "Dreadful Fate" remain in your mind long after the album has concluded. These songs are very powerful and crushing, laying waste to the weak and inferior souls that dare to listen. The average song length is around three or four minutes, resulting in the album clocking in at just under half an hour. This is probably the one point worth complaining about. Songs like "Realm of the Dead" mix Speed and Thrash Metal well, creating a dark and occult feeling, yet still dripping with a traditional Metal sensibility. The lead solo in this song is perfectly placed and leaves the listener wishing that there were a few more like it, throughout the record. While this album is filled with a lot of aggression and energy, there are slower moments such as the doom riffs found in "Dying World". As the album nears its conclusion, "Bestial Death" features intense speed and nice guitar harmonies, along with hellish screams. This builds up to the climax of the entire L.P.
"Painfully awaiting the night
Never to see the light
Is this the price I must pay
A stench of dirt and decay"
These lines are found in the beginning of "Denied Birth", which was the song that made me completely obsessed with Merciless, upon discovering this cult Swedish band. This song really does well to blend together the sounds of 80s Black, Death and Thrash Metal. There is an epic feeling to this song, in particular, and it is fitting that it was chosen to end this classic album.
Sweden at the beginning of the 90s was simply amazing for the quantity of death metal bands featured. Grave, Entombed, Unleashed, Carnage and Dismember were just the top of the iceberg but, going under the water, metaphorically, we could find lots of other bands that more or less contributed in filling and festering the panorama. Merciless was one of these bands and their brutal style featured also big thrash and blackened elements. Their debut is an obligatory stopover for the aficionados of this genre and a small cult on the underground.
The Awakening is very short actually, but has some really good and brutal songs. We start from “Pure Hate” that featured lots of relentless and brutal riffs. The production is not the best here, especially in volumes but the bands is so angry that is able to level everything on its way to the dark. The atmosphere is violent but at the same time it’s also suffocating and dark. The riffs have lots of influences from the classic brutal thrash metal and the American style in particular even if we cannot hide a certain influence from the German bands and I found something from early bathory too, but maybe it’s just a personal thing.
The vocals are raspy and with a hint of black metal inside and they follow the same style of the music. The songs have remarkable tempo changes and furious, sudden restarts. For example check the ones of “Dreadful Fate”. The bass drums triplets and the up tempo parts are heavily influenced by the very first American death metal with always heavy influences from thrash metal. What really shocked me here is the pure burden of anger and occultism that lays in every single song…it’s unbelievable. From the crunchy and low tuned guitars distortion to the reverbs by the vocals and the way they play the drums: everything is made to be fucking heavy and dark.
As always, forget about melodies and these things because they are all about impact. The only ones are about some more speed metal oriented riffs and some dark arpeggios but nothing more. The structures are incredibly dynamic and various and we can find lots of palm muting parts that are easily mixed with tremolo picking parts. The few guitars solos are here to add a heavier dosage of brutality and darkness because they follow the same rawness and brutality of the rest of the songs. Another great song is the blasting “Denied Birth”, but everything is conceived in goodness and brutality and it’s difficult to mark out every single song because you must take this short output in its violence.
This album is a very good surprise for me and it’s another shining gem in my old school blackened death/thrash collection. It’s obscure, a bit forgotten, but give it a chance. This will blow your head up and in a really good way!
The Awakening is German-inspired death/thrash that has an intensity that does not let up, even when the music slows down a couple of notches from the full-blown speedfest. It took me awhile to really get into this album due to the first track being the low point. It seems that all instruments, including the vocals, are desperately trying to keep up to each other. It comes off as being sloppy at the first few listens, in my case the first ten years of listening. However, Pure Hate becomes an enjoyable listen, especially with the anticipation of the rest of the album. The Awakening gets better as the songs progress. Everything from the songwriting, musicianship and the atmosphere it seems are more mature and more accomplished.
The vocals are a sandpapered, barking snarl that contain a rabid viciousness which threatens to rip you apart. When the music slows down to a mid-paced level, the intensity of the drums really pound; speed the music up and the bass kicks in to fill the void of pounding left by the drums. This isn't to say that the drums are weak when the velocity increases, this just gives the bass a chance to crush the listener. Guitar-wise, the shredding is dated, but it is welcome as it harken's back to the yester-year of thrash: The tone is sharp and Merciless.
Overall, this is a fantastic death/thrash album that every metal-head should have in their collection. It may sound dated, but it still has relevance as Thrash continues to evolve. Those who prefer to have a polished production, or grandiose songwriting should avoid this. Those who enjoy ugly and gritty extreme metal should listen.
Sweden has always managed to dish out some of the most enjoyable albums in death metal during the genres blooming stage... Dismember's Like an Ever Flowing Stream, Entombed's Left Hand Path, Grave's You'll Never See. Well, folks, Merciless stood proud among their fellow Swedish titans during the birth of death metal...yet somehow, never really attained the proper recognition of the aforementioned bands. Might it have had something to do with the label they were on (they were one of the first death metal bands on Euronymous’ label – Deathlike Silence) at the time? Who knows? Either way, it’s a travesty – because this is a fucking great album.
You'll most definitely find some riffs that are inspired from the musical playbooks of Seven Churches, Hell Awaits and Scream Bloody Gore. The album does borrow a lot from early American death and thrash metal, but still manages to retain that sweet Swedish touch that made the early Swedish bands so awesome. The chainsaw guitars, unrelenting drumming, hellish vocals…oh yes, this is from Sweden all right. I can imagine that this is what going insane would sound like – constant off the wall aggression that never sleeps and knows no boundaries. Too bad mamma won’t be there to help you.
Songs like ‘Denied Birth’ sound like they could be part of a dark horror movie soundtrack – you know, those sinister melodic parts that signal the killer is coming...and he’s about to kick some ass unless you bow to the power of the riff! Other tracks such as ‘Beastial Death’ just go straight for the throat in an all out bonanza of fast, vicious riffs that will have your neck breaking by the time the song is up. With the dark clouded production that really puts emphasis on the buzzing chainsaw guitars, this makes things all the more intense and threatening, like being trapped in a level of Hell.
The vocals are harsh and raspy, almost as if Rogga were possessed by demons when he performed his vocal duties, much like an early Matti Karki, or Jeff Becerra. Rogga’s screams are filled with malice and (at times) a subtle sense of hopelessness. Most death metal vocalists are not able to pull this off to the convincing degree that Rogga does. “There is no God…just pain and starvation!!!” Fucking classic.
It really is frustrating that bands like Merciless didn’t get much of a chance, because it always makes you wonder what could have been. At least you get to keep a vicious piece of 1990 with The Awakening. Old school death metallers should especially take note of this album.
Merciless's "The Awakening" is one of those albums that has earned the "cult" status. It's a vicious, unrelenting, over the top aggressive masterpiece of razor sharp riffing; pummeling, frantic, phrenetic drumming and a voice possessed by demonic terror. It's enthusiastic, violent, and often hellish. The raw production only adds to the nastiness of the compositions and it's got this fantastic crazed atmosphere yet to be matched.
It's an anomoly in that deathmetal freaks, as well as blackmetal extremists and even thrash purists can and should get into. It's instantly classic from the moment "Pure Hate" devours you alive to the last second of "Denied Birth". After hearing it for the first time i was in awe of it's sheer brutal nature, as well as hooked by those nasty, simple and extremely catchy songs! It seems nearly every day i will hear in my head riffs from this album...
"Dreadful Fate" has one of the all time greatest simple choruses as does "Soul's of the Dead"!!! The riff power on "Dying World" will keep you headbanging 'til you're buried underground, and i bet if i played this album next to your final "resting" place, your maggoty corpse will arise again just enjoy this recorded carnage!!! Awesome!!!
The vocals are saturated in reverb and slice right through your existence, throaty, angry, and acrid! Rogga had/has the best raspy/screamy vocals of all time i think, makes Kreator seem like The Beatles-HAH!
As mentioned the drums are quite frantic, animalistic even, if anything exemplifies that band name, it's the drumwork "merciless". The pace set for the entire album is in hyper drive and the riffs HAVE to run circles around you just to keep up. It makes for an at times, dizzying barrage of offensive, intense, mean spirited metal.
The songs are as addictive as they are pulverizing. As catchy as they are vicious and it's brilliant! Do yourself a favor, track this down, you MUST own this record! Absolutely perfect violent, rancorous metal!